The Rajasthan Royals took on the Punjab Kings in what was a cracker of a match as the winner got the upper hand and were the frontrunners to put pressure on the Mumbai Indians and knick 4th place to qualify for the play-offs. It was an ideal day for an exciting competition as both teams came into the game making key decisions relating to their starting 11. Punjab dropped the 'Universal Boss' Chris Gayle in favour of in-form South African Aiden Markram, and Rajasthan chose to not go with the best T20 bowler in Tabraiz Shamsi.
The pitch seemed to be a fresh track and was ideal for the team chasing, hence playing a huge role in KL Rahul's decision to bowl as his team won the toss. "No brainer, fresh wicket, don't know how it will play. I personally prefer chasing. It's good to be back in Dubai. We've had a lot of learnings from playing here last time. A lot of guys were playing international cricket, but we are all professionals and have done our best to prepare. Pooran, Markram, Adil Rashid, Fabian Allen. Markram will bat No. 3. Unfortunately, Chris Gayle misses out," said Punjab captain KL Rahul at the toss to Star Sports.
"We are good setting or chasing as a team that we have. We have great talent and great characters. The positive atmosphere in the team. Sangakkara wanted us to relax and remind us that it's just a game that you have to enjoy. Lewis, Livingstone, Morris, Mustafizur are the overseas players," said Rajasthan captain Sanju Samson in an interview with Star Sports.
Mohammed Shami opened with the new ball as he went up against Trinidadian Evin Lewis. Lewis got off the mark and handed the strike over to his opening partner Yashasvi Jaiswal, whose aggressive start set the tone for the rest of the innings for Rajasthan. Jaiswal smashed Shami for two back-to-back fours showing that the 19-year-old was up to the mark with the bright lights not fazing him. Evin Lewis joined the act as he found the boundary at will, dissecting the Rajasthan bowling attack with a surgeon's precision. Lewis looked to get another big one as a deceptive change of pace ball by seamer Arshdeep Singh had him bamboozled before he sliced it straight into the hands of extra cover. This crucial wicket helped Punjab claw their way back into the game, with the score being 57-1 at the end of 6 overs.
Yashasvi Jaiswal took over the game as he timed his shots to perfection, causing a major headache for the opposing bowling lineup. Jaiswal's ability to shift gears helped him cruise through after minimal support from the other end as both captain Sanju Samson and Liam Livingstone lost their wickets before they could establish themselves. Livingstone's wicket was one of the best we have seen in a while as the high-flying Fabian Allen pulled off a stunner as he dove to his right to catch a ball that was bound to clear the boundary. It is a guaranteed contender for IPL's perfect catch of the season.
Left-hander Mahipal Lomror proved to be crucial as he got off to an aggressive start, taking the pressure of Jaiswal's shoulder. Unfortunately, Jaiswal got out before he could complete his half-century as he paid the price for getting a bit tentative after getting close to the mark. Lomror roared as he ripped the Punjab bowling unit to shreds, clearing the boundary at will and causing utter chaos before being deceived by yet another good delivery from Arshdeep Singh. The young star caused enough damage with a crucial 43-run knock, setting his team up for a large score. Despite herculean efforts from the likes of Lomror and Jaiswal, the other batsmen failed to add finishing touches to the score, which could have easily crossed 200. Punjab will be happy as they managed to bundle up Rajasthan at 185 on the back of a humungous 5-wicket haul by seamer Arshdeep Singh.
It was now up to the likes of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Aiden Markram to perform with the bat. The captain KL Rahul took the fight to the opposing bowling unit as he started aggressively with the right intent. Rahul was offered lifeline after lifeline as the Punjab fielding was not at its best, dropping the skipper thrice in the first six overs, allowing him the chance to make the most of it. The skipper and Mayank Agarwal looked to be settling down as they achieved their 50-run partnership within the first seven overs. Mayank Agarwal shifted gears as he became more aggressive while picking apart the opposing bowling unit on his way to an important half-century. The Royals' lacklustre fielding aided the Punjab opening batsmen, as they went ballistic before Rahul lost his wicket at 49 before setting his team up in a good position at 120/1 in 11.5 overs. Mayank Agarwal was the next to go after a brilliant knock of 67 as he sliced the ball to deep point to Livingstone, who does not drop catches like those.
Nicholas Pooran and Aiden Markram took over from there as they established a critical 57-run partnership going into the final over. The final over turned out to be a nail-biter with a lot of through and fro with two wickets in 5 balls. Kartik Tyagi turned out to be the hero for the Royals as he wrapped up the game with the last ball.
The Royals winning this nail-biter will give them the boost that they needed to build up their momentum as they mounted pressure on the 4th placed Mumbai Indians to qualify for the play-offs.
The Kings will have their chance at redemption if the Royals or Mumbai slip as they could then take advantage and mount a serious challenge, but for now, their hopes of making it to the play-offs seems improbable.